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Nigerian President says MTN not cutting Boko Haram lines behind $3.9bn fine

By Elisha Bala-Gbogbo

(Bloomberg) — MTN Group Ltd.’s failure to cut off lines used by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram contributed to a rise in casualties, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said.

“The unregistered lines were being used by terrorists and between 2009 and today at least 10,000 Nigerians were killed,” Buhari said on Tuesday in the capital, Abuja, at a joint news conference with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma. “Unfortunately, MTN was very slow and contributed to the casualties.”

President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari
President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari

MTN, Africa’s largest mobile-phone company, is negotiating with Nigerian regulators over a $3.9 billion fined imposed last year after it failed to disconnect unregistered mobile subscribers. Last month the company paid 50 billion naira ($251 million) to the authorities that it said would be applied to an eventual settlement.

MTN spokesmen Chris Maroleng and Michael Ikpoki didn’t answer several calls or immediately respond to text messages seeking comment.

MTN was hit with the penalty after failing to comply on time with an order to disconnect 5.1 million customers deemed by the regulator to be unregistered in Africa’s most populous country. Nigeria took the measure as part of efforts to fight crime in a country with poor identity records. The insurgent group Boko Haram’s campaign to establish its version of Islamic law in Nigeria has left thousands of people dead since 2009.

Zuma, who didn’t comment on MTN, said improved economic ties between Nigeria and South Africa can help boost trade among African nations.

South Africa and Nigeria, the continent’s two biggest economies, need to work together for better implementation of agreements they’ve signed, Zuma told a joint session of Nigeria’s parliament on Tuesday in Abuja.

“Economic cooperation between our two countries can therefore serve as a bedrock of the continent’s economic cooperation and intra-Africa trade,” he said. “This is the kind of leadership Africa expects South Africa and Nigeria to provide.”

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